Wayne Parnell is four years older, has represented ten more teams and collected 100 more white-ball wickets since he last played limited-overs cricket for South Africa. He is now promising to contribute “experience” during the World Cup Super League clash against the Netherlands. It’s a series he didn’t think he’d be playing in, after putting his international career on the back-burner to pursue the county game and life as a T20 league specialist. But with the Kolpak system coming to an end, Parnell is back and believes he has a role to play.
“I didn’t set out my store to say I am coming back into South African cricket and I want to play for the Proteas again,” Parnell said at a press conference to mark his return. “I was quite happy coming back to Western Province and trying to add value in their environment. But then it led to these bigger things. For me, I don’t have any expectations. “He (Victor Mpitsang, convener of selectors) asked me if I was interested to play international cricket and I said I cannot turn down my country. I am fully committed to the path going forward.”
Parnell is the first former Kolpak player to be recalled for the national team since the system ceased to exist after the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union and selection convener Victor Mpitsang has indicated he won’t be the last. Also on the radar is Rilee Rossouw, and it wouldn’t be a reach to suggest Duanne Olivier, who currently tops the first-class bowling charts, is not far behind. What there doesn’t seem to be yet is a clear plan for how the Kolpak returnees will be reintegrated.
“I haven’t spoken to anyone else besides Victor in terms of where do I fit in, am I just filling in a gap or is there an opportunity to take this forward,” Parnell said. “Once we get into camp, I will have to sit down with Mark (Boucher) to understand what the thinking is. But I am available.”
While Parnell doesn’t come into the series on the back of strong form – he has played just six matches since rejoining the set-up – he does have a significant cache of game-time. Since 2017, Parnell has played in the Afghanistan, and Bangladesh Premier Leagues, the Pakistan Super League and for two counties, where he believed he learnt the most.
“In England, when it comes to white-ball cricket, every team is dangerous and that was the thing that took me by surprise initially,” he said. “It came off the back of the 2015 World Cup, where they had to rebuild and they basically said if you want to play for England, this is how you have to play and this is how the counties have to play. That made me more experienced. I wouldn’t say I am a completely different player, I am just more experienced.”
In these domestic set-ups, Parnell found the environments more conducive to information sharing and individual growth. “I found I could play with a lot more freedom,” he said. “When you are playing international cricket, it’s a little bit different because I don’t feel there is a lot of helping each other because I am fighting for my spot and the other players are fighting for their spot, so when there were more senior players the transfer of information and knowledge wasn’t as forthcoming, whereas my way of looking at cricket now, is completely different. I know what I can do and I feel comfortable with what I can bring to any team and that’s been my biggest focus over the last couple of years – focusing on myself and not focusing on the next guy.”
The maturity that Parnell developed through what can only be described as a personal study of his own game meant that when he returned to a rebuilding Western Province side, he was offered the white-ball captaincy. He led them through the domestic T20 knockout competition, where they lost to the eventual champions, the Knights, and hopes to be able to pick up the reins for other tournaments later this summer.
“I’ve always seen myself as a leader within the team,” Parnell said. “Maybe I haven’t been given enough responsibility in the past but when the opportunity came up at Western Province and it was something I grabbed with both hands. It’s something I really wanted to do. I really enjoy helping people, helping the younger guys and trying to get them to the next level, trying to pass on the knowledge that I have picked up in years of playing.”
Parnell may find himself doing a similar role in the ODI set-up. South Africa have rested six regulars, including captain Temba Bavuma, for the Netherlands series and will field a fairly inexperienced outfit against a team they last played against seven years ago.
Parnell is familiar with some of the Dutch players from the county circuit but will also bring in fresh ideas from his Kolpak days, which South Africa have not had in the past. If all goes well, it may prompt a return for others who are back in the fold but at the least, it has opened the door for Parnell to have a second stint as an international. “I am very comfortable with where my game is at, and with myself as a person,” he said. “I am still young enough. I am playing good cricket. I feel that I can still contribute at this level.”
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